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Bennie Thompson Describes Next Steps for January 6 Committee

In an interview, the chairman makes clear that the select committee means business—but acknowledges there are limits on how much power the body has.

Brendan Smialowski/Pool/Getty Images
Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack Chairman Bennie Thompson

A major piece of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the Capitol’s work will come out in two separate reports this year, and those reports will contain important differences, the panel’s top lawmaker said in an interview.

There will be an interim report, which the committee aims to release this summer, and a final report, which the panel will release this fall. The interim report will act as a sort of progress report for the committee’s investigation. The final report will include recommendations to Congress on what to do to prevent another attack.

Those reports are the most significant and certain products that will come out of the committee’s investigation into the mob attack on the Capitol. The committee’s plans for the reports, laid out in detail by committee Chairman Bennie Thompson to The New Republic in late December, are a sometimes-overlooked aspect of the ongoing investigation into the mob attack and the circumstances surrounding them. 

The committee’s work fuels endless questions about whether former President Donald Trump or his allies will face criminal charges in connection with the attack on the Capitol. There are also questions on who else the committee could subpoena—and if those subpoena recipients will cooperate with the committee—and at what point Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department act on the committee’s findings.

The answers to those arguably more tantalizing questions are less clear. At this point, though, what is certain is that the committee will produce these two extensive reports before the midterms, based on the panel’s increasingly explosive findings.

“The interim report would obviously give the public a view of what we’ve done as a committee: hearings held; some information gathered through our investigation, and kind of [plotting] the way forward. We will talk about the intelligence aspect of what occurred on January 6 in terms of the different agencies,” Thompson said, a few days before the new year. “We will talk about the security aspect of what was going on with the various agencies around the Capitol. We’ll talk about the organizations who came to Washington for the Stop the Steal rally. We’ll talk a little bit about, at this point, the 300-odd witnesses that we’ve interviewed. Some of the information we’ve gathered.

“It will basically give you an idea of what we’ve been doing. You won’t see a lot of conclusions at that point. But you will see what we have ascertained,” Thompson continued. “We’ll look at what the financing of the rally consisted of and whether those finances were consistent with current law. It’s kind of a statement of facts. And we’ll go after that to a broader report that will bring about conclusions.”

The final report, meanwhile, will be more conclusive, Thompson explained.

“We’ll have a series of recommendations for Congress to adopt,” Thompson said. “Because one of the charges that we have, as a committee, is to make some recommendations that, if adopted, we could pretty much assure that another January 6 could not occur. Part of that is making sure that law enforcement is on the same page. Intelligence-gathering community’s on the same page. That administrative structure on securing the Capitol is as robust as it needs to be. And the training and all the things that go with that is where it needs to be.”

Thompson’s comments come as the committee moves to a new phase of its investigation on multiple fronts. The panel will hold televised hearings and begin releasing more specific findings of its investigation. The committee is also considering whether it can issue subpoenas to fellow members of Congress who have declined its request to share information and details of their potential involvement in the mob attack. Congressmen Jim Jordan and Scott Perry have declined the committee’s request to come before it as part of its investigation.

Thompson didn’t specify how close the panel is to issuing subpoenas to fellow members of Congress but conceded that beyond doing that, there aren’t many options to compel lawmakers to participate.

“Under the speech and debate clause for members, if they choose not to honor a subpoena, I’m not sure that there is anything beyond that that we can do. I mean, we’re still looking at it. But to be honest with you, that’s why we asked the gentlemen we talked to to come voluntarily,” Thompson said. “We think if you’ve got something that you are aware of that occurred that contributed to January 6, why wouldn’t you want to come to the committee and say exactly what that is? You had taken an oath as a member of Congress. But we can’t make you come. So that’s unfortunate. But based on some of the text messages that the chief of staff [Mark] Meadows provided to our committee, it’s obvious they were involved in a lot of what’s going on.”

The committee’s investigation is ongoing and expansive. Other members of Congress could be asked to speak to the committee, Thompson said. He also didn’t shoot down senators being asked or subpoenaed if the committee starts subpoenaing federal lawmakers. “That is always possible. At this point, none of that is off the table,” Thompson said. “As a strategy, we want to talk to any and all who have information that we think could help us complete our body of work.” Likely senators would seem to include Missouri’s Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz of Texas or maybe Alabama’s Tommy Tuberville or Utah’s Mike Lee.

Within Democratic circles, there have been simmering questions (and a little frustration) over what it will take for the Justice Department to move on any of the findings of the committee or to recommend someone under its scrutiny for criminal prosecution. Thompson refrained from criticizing the attorney general or the Justice Department.

“Well, everybody has a lane. They are pursuing everybody who’s affiliated with breaking into the Capitol that day and doing all those crazy things,” Thompson said. “I have heard that we probably need to have more serious charges placed on people than misdemeanors. That might be a recommendation from the committee. We won’t say what that is, but that can be a recommendation. But we’ve kind of left [it] to the DOJ to pursue the prosecutions, because that’s what they do. We want to see whether or not there was some conspiracy on the part of people to do what occurred.”

Meanwhile, other members of the committee confirm more details about key members of the Trump administration on January 6. On Sunday, Congresswoman Liz Cheney, the committee’s vice chair, described on CNN and other networks how Trump was sitting in the White House dining room next to the Oval Office watching television during the mob attack and that Ivanka Trump came into the dining room multiple times to urge Trump to do something to quell the attack. The committee has “firsthand knowledge” of the president’s whereabouts during the riot, CNN reported on Monday. 

The panel has also had some success recently in obtaining documents that paint a more extensive picture of the options Trump considered during the riot. As part of a batch of documents provided by former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, the former top New York cop seems to have revealed a draft letter of an option Trump considered to “seize evidence in the interest of national security for the 2020 elections.” It’s unclear what the letter says, as it is part of a set of documents Kerik’s lawyer listed in a “privilege log” to the committee. But it seems to be further evidence that falls under one of the topics the committee has been investigating: whether and how seriously Trump considered impounding election equipment.

But the committee has had little success in moving the partisan divide over the investigation. Recent polling shows that a plurality of Republicans are against the House committee investigating the attack, while Democrats overwhelmingly support it. Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill have more strongly opposed the committee.

Over the next few months, a big part of what the committee finds will be in public view. It’s unclear, though, how its findings will shift voters’ view of the committee’s work or what happened that day at all. At the end of the investigation, there could be a truly damning report from the committee and a well-thought-out set of recommendations on how to prevent another mob attack from happening. The report will certainly be an extensive accounting of what happened, but whether those findings will lead to charges for Trump or his allies is an entirely different question. It’s not clear lawmakers will act on the final report’s findings, and it’s also not clear if they will have the power to do so if so inclined.